Reluctant Townie: How to spot a midlife monkey crisis

Reluctant Townie: How to spot a midlife monkey crisis

Last month, the American journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (which I will have to take on good faith is an actual thing) published a study that claims chimpanzees and orangutans suffer from midlife crisis.

Researchers from across the globe participated in the study — which involved zookeepers amassing detailed notes on more than 500 captive apes — and concluded that the onset of midlife monkey depression was due to some factor other than the ape's sinking realization that it was never going to escape its faux-jungle prison at the zoo.

The discovery of midlife crisis, originally thought to be a social phenomenon exclusive to human beings with crushed expectations and male pattern baldness, in nonhumans is significant. As chimpanzees and orangutans have no understanding of mortality, the findings suggest the phenomenon has biological origins.

While this is important news in the advancement of science, it is more important for the millions of Americans out there struggling with their own midlife monkey crisis. (Note: For the sake of this column, the words "monkey," "ape" and "gorilla" will be used interchangeably, without regard to biological classification. Take that, Carl Linnaeus!)

How do you know if the monkey in your life is suffering from a midlife crisis and what can you do to help?

First, it is important to identify specifically what you're dealing with: Is it a chimpanzee or an orangutan?

Chimpanzees are the little black and tan creatures that are often found portraying "monkeys" in Hollywood pictures. They are easily spotted by the telltale cloth diaper or top hat with matching coattails. A chimpanzee midlife crisis is often focused around a lack of accomplishments — the magician's assistant that never was, the disco derby queen who couldn't go pro — and, as such, the chimp is more prone to acting out.

Orangutans are the red-headed stepchildren of the apes. Lanky, potbellied gingers with a George Costanza hairline and a pool of elbow hair to match, orangutans are particularly susceptible to having their midlife crisis triggered by catching their own reflection in a mirror. Orangutans are the creepy outcasts of the primate order. Or, to put it another way, they are the most likely to mail you a pipe bomb during their midlife crisis.

Obvious signs

Is the monkey in your life exhibiting any of the following symptoms:


Loss of appetite?


Impulsive and/or risky behavior?

A new gym membership?

Thoughts of suicide or despair?

An unconvincing hairpiece?

A convertible it can't afford?

A sudden shift away from age-appropriate fashions?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, science says there's a good chance your monkey is struggling to deal with an emotionally crippling midlife crisis.

What to do

If the great ape in your life is suffering from a devastating emotional crisis:

1. Do not force the conversation. In addition to being cute and cuddly, chimpanzees are also freakishly strong and prone to unpredictable acts of violence like ripping your face off and throwing it into a banana tree.

No sudden movements or displays of aggression are suggested on your part. Approach the ape slowly and with your intentions on full display. When your monkey is ready, it will talk to you.

2. Give them space to work out their issues. Maybe your orangutan just took up Bikram yoga or yodeling for sport. Let them explore whatever avenues they need to explore, and don't take it personally when they're not including you.

A midlife crisis is about self-discovery, and the acceptance that the self you just discovered is a huge disappointment. You don't want to be around for that. It involves a lot of ugly crying.

3. Encourage a restructuring of goals. Maybe your monkey wanted to be a millionaire by 30, or by 40, or by 50, but it just never happened. Shift focus away from that failure to a more achievable and meaningful goal, like helping underprivileged children learn tap dancing or volunteering to monkey butler for an aging socialite.

What to do if you catch your chimpanzee having an affair

It's the worst-case scenario, but it could happen to you. In the face of overwhelming depression, your gorilla goes out and scales another skyscraper. What to do next?

1. Seek professional guidance. Marriage is no monkey business — it's hard work. So if you catch your ape straying, be prepared to put in serious effort to rectify the situation.

But just because your ape is suffering from elevated levels of ennui and hopelessness, don't let it off easy — you still have feelings, too, and they're completely valid. Work through your problems as a couple and you may emerge stronger than before.

2. LoJack that fool. Install a GPS tracker on your gorilla's phone; that way you'll know the minute he's out monkeying around with some hoochie from the bonobo exhibit.

(Side note: Bonobos are the most Homo-sapiens-like of all the great apes, yet the study found that they appear to be immune to midlife crisis. According to one expert, bonobos "are always having sex and seem pretty happy at all ages." Words to live by, perhaps?)

3. Don't blame yourself. There's nothing you could have done differently. Just because your chimp caught you watching "Dunston Checks In" by yourself in the dark on your anniversary doesn't mean you deserved the betrayal you received in return. It was on cable. Plus, why were you alone in the dark on your anniversary to begin with?

In time, the midlife monkey crisis will pass, and in its old age, your monkey will return to levels of contentment similar to those it experienced during childhood. Until then, I wish you the best of luck.

And, as always, remember: Never challenge a monkey to an arm-wrestling contest when it's been drinking.

Ryan Jackson received his degree in primate psychology from the University of Google Search Results and he can be reached at

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rsp wrote on December 02, 2012 at 2:12 pm

"Bonobos are the most Homo-sapiens-like of all the great apes..."

Not quite. Did you look at how they resolve conflicts? And who they have sex with? 

EL YATIRI wrote on December 02, 2012 at 4:12 pm
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I wouldn't mind living in a matriarchal society at all, if the females put out like bonobos do.  Sure would have helped with my midlife crisis.